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Cost of Inaction

Unmitigated global warming and climate change is expected to increase the likelihood of intense storms, the severity and frequency of flooding events, hurricanes, drought and wildfire, and increased sea levels. These are expected to results in deaths, negative effects on human health and significant economic damages. Some of these have already started to occur. According to research conducted by 20 groups looking at 16 different extreme weather events in 2013, for the heat waves in Australia, Europe, China, Japan and Korea; heavy precipitation in the US and India, and the droughts in New Zealand and California, man-made climate change increased either the likelihood or the strength of these events.1 For example, the heatwave of 2013 is estimated to have lead to 650 premature deaths in England alone.2 And, in 2015, researchers, Fischer and Knutti, estimated that 75% of the world’s unusually hot days and 18% of its extreme snow or rain can be attributed to man-made climate change.3,4


The potential cost of inaction is estimated to be as high as 14% of average world consumption per capita.5 Several costs of inaction have been projected including those that can be easily valued in economic terms e.g. agricultural and forestry sector losses, and those that are more intangible e.g. cost of biodiversity loss and climate change-related catastrophic events.5 Globally the climate costs were projected to be US $ 1322.45B in 2030 and US $ 3384.46B in 2050.6 Delayed implementation of mitigation efforts (from 2005 and 2025) was estimated to cost US $ 340B in 2050 worldwide since more drastic measures would be required to achieve emission reduction targets, and because of deferred investment in research into clean and emissions reduction technology. Additionally, delayed implementation would make it impossible to restrict global surface temperature to 2oC by 2100, which would result in more catastrophic events and additional costs.


In the US, federal crop insurance payouts from extreme crop losses resulting from extreme weather have steeply increased to $10.8B in 2011 and $17.3B in 2012. Similarly, rising tides have resulted in flood losses leading to billions of dollars in National Flood Insurance Program Payouts. Also, Federal Wildfire Appropriations have dramatically increased. And, consequently, the overall losses have exceeded insured losses in any given year.7


Also in the US, hurricane damages are projected to cost $10B by 2025 and increase to $43B in 2050, with additional real estate losses amounting to $34B in 2025 and $80B in 2050. Also, energy sector costs are expected to be $28B and $80B in 2025 and 2050, respectively. Furthermore, water costs are estimated to be $200B in 2025 and $336B in 2050. In all, the cost of climate change is projected to be $271B and $506B in 2025 and 2050 in the US. These four climate change impacts alone will result in a 1.8% decrease in GDP in 2100. And, globally, unmitigated climate change is estimated to decrease GDP by 3.6%.8 Other estimates of global cost of unmitigated climate change indicate at least 5% and up to 20% of GDP.9


Losses related to extreme weather disasters in the US 2011-127

Source: Inaction on climate change: The cost to taxpayers.7

This video by the Climate Reality Project describes some of the major costs of carbon pollution.


Estimated costs to Canada

In 2011, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NTREE) concluded that the costs of climate change for Canada could be $ 5B per year in 2020, and escalate to $21-43B per year in the 2050s.10 Other reports have come to similar conclusions: in the absence of mitigation efforts, climate damages were projected to cost US $ 16.97B in 2050 and US $ 43.42B in 2100.

If climate protection does not commence until 2025, in addition to an increase in cost of these efforts, the cost of climate damage would be many fold higher – US $ 48.54B in 2050 and US $ 197.16B in 2100 for Canada alone.6


Already extreme weather events have had an enormous impact in some parts of Canada. Several extreme weather events across Canada including the ice storms in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, floods in Alberta, and flash flooding in Toronto all in 2013 alone resulted in a record $3.2B in insurance payouts. The 2013 floods in Alberta alone resulted in loss of four lives, displacement of over 100,000 people, $1.74B in insured losses and $5B in total losses. As a result, some property insurers in Canada are reported to have raised premiums by 15-20%.11,12 The devastating Alberta floods also increased the federal budget to $3.8B from $2.2B from the month prior to the floods.13


Extreme weather events of 2013 in Canada, and their impact





1. Explaining extreme events of 2013 from a climate perspective. Bull Amer Metero Soc 95, S1–S96 (2014).

2. Armstrong, B. G. et al. Association of mortality with high temperatures in a temperate climate: England and Wales. J. Epidemiol. Community Health 65, 340–345 (2011).

3. News, J. D. / B. 75 percent of extreme weather due to climate change, study finds. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Available at

4. Fischer, E. M. & Knutti, R. Anthropogenic contribution to global occurrence of heavy-precipitation and high-temperature extremes. Nat. Clim. Change advance online publication, (2015).

5. Kemfert, C. Global Climate Protection: Immediate Action Will Avert High Costs. DIW Berl. Wkly. Rep. 1, 135–141 (2005).

6. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050. The consequences of inaction. (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012). Available at

7. Nancy, I. Inaction on climate change: The cost to taxpayers. (Ceres, 2013). Available at

8. Ackerman, F. & Stanton, E. The cost of climate change. (National Resources Defense Council, 2008). Available at

9. Stern, N. Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. (HM Treasury, 2006). Available at

10. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Paying the price: The economic impacts of climate change for Canada. (The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, 2011). Available at

11. CBC News. Extreme weather cost Canada record $3.2B, insurers say. (2014). Available at

12. CBC News. Alberta flooding claims at least 3 lives. (2013). Available at

13. CBC News. Alberta floods push federal deficit to $3.8B. Available at